The Goldbergs: TV, but for Who?
I first started watching the Goldbergs, Adam F Goldbergs semi-autobiographical sitcom/pop-culture tornado in Majorca last year when it was just too hot to be elsewhere and the only English show was this one. It is set in an unspecified eighties year. This is presumably so it can play fast and loose with its film and TV references and not be accused of poor continuity.
We found the gratuitous characters, expositional narration, and lesson-an-episode format to be pleasing relief from the baking sun and tempting all-inclusive bar; and so when we found it available on a streaming service recently, we started to watch again.
It was like a holiday romance being rekindled, as in it did not work and, taking that analogy to the highest level, the more you tried it, the more doomed you realise it is and that the spark was just gone. Perhaps never even there in the first place.
For those that don't know it is a family show, narrated by the youngest son, Adam, a nerdy, pop-culture loving schoolkid. It is made up of his overbearing mother, Beverley, grouchy but good-hearted father, Murray, gifted and beautiful older sister, Erica (based on his brother, Eric), goofy halfwit older brother, Barry, and sage, loveable grandfather 'Pops.'
The first series shows you a mix of relationships and family dynamics with a bit of charm and good humour. We can sympathise and scrutinise each character with a safe mix of saturation for each of them. This way it avoids The Simpsons’ curse of each episode being labelled as a cast member (Marge and Lisa being the eye-rollers). It was nothing spectacular but that is fine. It was not Melissa and Joey either. At least not yet.
I found, getting through the next series, that both the stories and the characters were becoming utterly ridiculous.
The overbearing mother was taking it way too far and becoming annoyingly sinister. Even criminal and sociopathic. The imbecilic brother, Barry, was so stupid and implausible and his idiocy and lack of self-awareness were becoming a get-out-of-jail-free card for the storylines when needed. The cool and alluring sister was turning stale and whiney, and our main character, aside from an increasingly noticeable habit of saying "s" sounds like he was clenching his teeth together, was always pontificating and proclaiming to the point it had no effect. Three or four times an episode he would hold his hand up and vow something or other to rising music. Serious or tongue in cheek, it did not work.
To have a main character you start to dislike is suicide for a prime-time sitcom. As one of the peripheral characters says when he is always filming people, "It is intrusive and creepy. Just like you." I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with the person saying it and I am sure that was not the desired result.
There were extreme events as well. Once a series maybe, but the flimsy premise that would lead to him getting lost in a baseball stadium and his brother leading the whole school in a rendition of Twist and Shout a la Ferris Bueller was so tacked on and perforated, you felt that Mr. Goldberg didn't feel the audience deserves the effort and just wanted to do or say certain things, whatever the overall effect would be.
They hammered everything. To have a little shot of the real-life counterpart and a title card tribute to a person or place is nice. It gives the viewer perspective but when it happens every single episode, it becomes formulaic and stale.
So when people talk about "Jumping the Shark" I would say this is the textbook example. I think it went to safe corners and relied on tested tropes and themes rather than trying to entertain us, kit tried to do what entertained us before. Plus all the 80's toys, movies, music, and other cultural references seemed fake. Not like in shows like Spaced where you sense a real love for the cited example. Here it felt like they picked them because they knew others liked them. I didn't get a sense of true enthusiasm.
Hank Stuever of The Washington Post said the show was "obnoxiously loud" and I think that sums it up perfectly. Failing that you could ask David Hinckley of The New York, Daily News, who said the show is "just awful"
I think my main issue is it comes in the guise of a friend from the past but is showing itself to be an acquaintance. One who should have been here yesterday.